The 14-month Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh plunged into a crisis on the day of Holi. Twenty-three legislators of the Congress (at last count) have sent in their resignations to the Governor.
All these MLAs are believed to be of the Jyotiraditya Scindia camp. Scindia resigned from the primary membership of the Grand Old Party on Tuesday.
Scindia is slated to join the Bharatiya Janata party or float his own regional party, like his father. This has ended months of bickering in the Congress between the Kamal Nath-Digvijaya and the Scindia camps.
Just six months before the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections in 2018, the Congress appointed Kamal Nath as the Pradesh Congress Committee president. Scindia who was also in the fray felt cheated and was disappointed.
He was accommodated as Chairman of the Campaign Committee. Post results, Kamal Nath was appointed as chief minister. Loyalists from the Digvijaya Singh and Kamal Nath camp got ministerial berths.
Scindia felt he got a raw deal as plum portfolios were taken over by his two rivals. He upped the pressure on the Congress High Command to make him the state president. In the Lok Sabha elections held three months after, he had lost from his family bastion, Guna.
In the meantime, his friend Rahul Gandhi resigned as Congress president. The Congress old guard convinced Sonia to take over as ‘interim president’ of the party. Sonia went with the advice of Kamal Nath and Digvijaya, denying Scindia the post he aspired to.
Kamal Nath has been holding onto both the posts since the last 14 months. This irked Scindia and his supporters. He supported abrogation of Article 370 by the BJP, taking a stand against the Congress’s official position.
In a recent meeting of MPCC in Delhi, Scindia and Kamal Nath had an altercation. Scindia allegedly left the meeting midway.
Then Scindia launched an attack on the Kamal Nath-led government early this year, taking up the cause of regularising guest teachers in Tikamgarh. Scindia thundered that he will be their ‘shield and sword’ if all promises in the party's manifesto were not fulfilled.
Responding to Scindia's remarks, the MP chief minister said, "A manifesto is for 5 years, right? Not for 5 months where the promises will be fulfilled just like that."
Scindia then threatened to take to the streets and protest more vociferously. But Kamal Nath replied, “... nobody’s stopping him from doing that.”
Apparently, this was the tipping point.
The Rajya Sabha elections to 3 seats in Madhya Pradesh acted as the final nail in the coffin. Scindia wanted a Rajya Sabha berth after losing out in the Lok Sabha polls. Digvijaya too wanted an RS seat.
The two could have been accommodated. However, the party High Command, under the influence of Kamal Nath, chose to deny Scindia the Rajya Sabha seat.
While the Congress is blaming the BJP for this mess, it has only itself to blame.
Why was the High Command sitting for 14 months to decide on the PCC president post? Why did it fail to distribute power evenly among various factions? Why couldn’t it see a rebellion brewing? Why didn’t it intervene in the matter to sort things out rather than taking sides?
The most hilarious part is that the party expelled Scindia from party positions after he had made public his resignation letter. It seemed like a cheap face-saver, just to manage the headlines.
All of this shows that the party leadership is surrounded by a coterie which does not provide correct inputs to the High Command. Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh thought that by accommodating 8 MLAs from the Scindia camp as ministers, they had broken his back.
They assumed these Scindia loyalists would not jeopardize their ministerial position and perks and leave the party. Digvijaya is interested in promoting his son, Jaivardhan. If Scindia gets prominence, Jaivardhan would be overshadowed.
Same is the situation with Kamal Nath, who wants to make his son Nakul, his successor. Sonia must also have been wary of promoting Scindia lest someday he overshadows Rahul and Priyanka.
There was a clear conflict of interest which the Congress High Command failed to see. The party had won the 26/114 seats from Gwalior-Chambal region (23% of its total tally), where Scindia has considerable influence.
The role of Digvijaya Singh comes under a cloud here. He is largely seen as the man responsible for advising Sonia wrongly in the Andhra Pradesh matter when YSR’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy staked claim to the chief minister’s chair after his father’s death. The rest is history.
Jagan formed his own party and Congress couldn’t even open its account in 2019 state elections. Digvijaya was in-charge of the state.
Later in 2017, as in-charge of Goa, his late action, made Congress, the single largest party, lose the chance of forming the state government.
The Congress High Command has clearly lost the plot. It has lost connect with ground realities. It is surrounded by people who only tell them what they want to hear.
At a time when the BJP was on the backfoot having lost five state governments in the last 15 months (including Madhya Pradesh), providing an opportunity to the BJP to make a strong comeback is entirely the doing of the Congress High Command.
It needs to take some tough decisions, and that too quickly, else some other young leaders may soon quit the Congress.